Traditions the Amish Way By Olivia Newport

My daughter got married a few months ago. She’d known her now-husband for a few years, but because of his work schedule and my travel schedule, we hadn’t had a Thanksgiving together until this year. She made us all pose for a selfie, which she posted with the comment, “First Thanksgiving with the family.”

My son-in-law had his fill of the dishes my adult children still insist must be on our Thanksgiving—and Christmas—table, although at Christmas I insist on ham rather than Turkey.

Once Thanksgiving was behind us, my daughter’s thoughts moved on to decorating for their first Christmas as a married couple. She rummaged through our storage space for a table-top Christmas tree that technically belonged to her. Later she asked if I was going to use the silk poinsettia plant. I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but I said she could have it. Then we talked about the wintery village pieces that her grandmother had passed on to us many years ago, but which I haven’t had a good space to display. She wanted those as well.

And there’s New Year’s, of course. When my kids were little, they and the neighbor kids went after each other with Silly String in the driveway at the stroke of midnight. That was our tradition.

It’s fun to see our family traditions shaping my daughter’s interest in creating a home of her own.

Tradition certainly is part of culture. Do traditions shape culture, or does culture shape tradition? It’s probably a never-ending loop!

The same is true among the Amish. Some of their traditions go back hundreds of years. The core value among Amish communities is Gelassenheit—acceptance, yieldedness, inner surrender of self-will. Gelassenheit spins its influence into every part of being Amish, even down to how personality develops. Personal circumstances serve the larger good of the whole group—whether the extended family or the congregation. Surrender of self takes individual energy and ability and lays it at the feet of other people.

Traditions the Amish Way

To us, this might seem restrictive or constraining. That’s because mainstream American culture focuses on individual achievement, whereas the Amish are above all concerned with the well-being of the community.

It’s something to think about as we get our bearings for a new year. Often our resolutions are about our own goals—what we want to change about ourselves or our circumstances. But maybe a wide open year ahead of us might also be an opportunity to take a lesson from the Amish. What can we each contribute to the well-being of the groups we belong to? Family. Neighborhood. Work environment. Church. Volunteering. In what ways might you surrender in some way for the greater good of others and find yourself closer to God in the process?

Olivia Newport writes historical Amish novels under the banner of Amish Turns of Time. Her most recent book is Hope in the Land. Her next book, Gladden the Heart, releases summer 2017. Find out more at www.olivianewport.com.

Where the Jobs Are by Olivia Newport

For most of us, it’s hard to separate what we think about the Amish from a mental picture of the rolling hills of the farm and a team of Belgian workhorses pulling a plow.

There can be no doubt that historically the Amish have been farmers. The persecution they faced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe because of their religious beliefs pushed them farther and farther into rural areas. They became very good at farming and carried this skill to North America, where the rich soil of Pennsylvania made it possible for the Amish to fairly easily build prosperous communities around farming. Of course the Amish also needed services such as tanning, milling, blacksmithing, furniture making, and carpentry, and some members of a community would contribute with these services even while farming was the center of life.


In the last sixty years or so, however, this has changed. Between 1940 and 1960, the Amish population doubled—and farm land, which was becoming more scarce, got more and more expensive. The population kept growing from there. Now in some of the larger communities, fewer than ten percent of Amish households sustain themselves primarily by farming. Many have opened shops catering to tourism, formed construction crews that travel to building sites, or even work in factories that have nothing to do with Amish life but provide a nice paycheck. Most states now have at least one Amish community because their demographics have shifted with the search for a way to earn a living.

A bishop said that “The lunch pail is the greatest threat to our way of life.” If possible, most Amish would still prefer to earn a living by staying close to home, even if home is not a farm. Family-owned businesses, supplied with family labor, is one way to keep the family central. More than one member of the family may begin a cottage industry, as long as the businesses do not take family members away from each other. Many businesses might focus on traditional values of craftsmanship, for instance—furniture, cabinets, quilts.

Outside of the Amish population, it is not at all unusual for people to “go where the job is.” Young people go to college a long way from where they grew up, and when they get a degree, they cast a wide net looking for that first job. Families move across the country, away from extended family, because it’s a good career move. Or how much we can earn with a particular job becomes more important than how well the demands of the job fit in with our personal values. When it comes to paying the rent and feeding the kids, any job is better than no job. It should not be hard for us to see that the Amish face similar scenarios.

Where people live shifts and what they do for a living shifts, both for the Amish and the non-Amish. What we have in common with the Amish is the need to be mindful of how these shifts, which may happen out of necessity, have the potential to undercut our choice to live in a manner that demonstrates the values we hold closest to our hearts.

What’s on your heart? How is it showing in where you live?

Olivia Newport writes Amish historical novels, including the Valley of Choice series and the Amish Turns of Time series. Hope in the Land released in April 2016, and Gladden the Heart is forthcoming in 2017. Find out more at www.olivianewport.com.

How Slow Can You Sing? By Olivia Newport

If you’re in church on a Sunday morning, are you hoping for fast, upbeat music or something slow and thoughtful? The latest music by contemporary Christian artists or the hymns of Charles Wesley or Fanny Crosby?

How slow can you sing

My forays into writing historical Amish stories have taken me into the traditional Amish songbook—the Ausbund. Still in use in Amish congregations, many of the Ausbund hymns date back to the middle of the sixteenth century and were written by men imprisoned because they held to Anabaptist theology rather than the prevailing Roman Catholic beliefs. Words to the hymns reflect that in the century of their origin, the hymn writers were persecuted, even martyred. Other hymnals were published during that era, but the Ausbund is distinguished because it has been in continuous use all these centuries, surviving from an era of more general use to today’s Amish congregations.

The Ausbund didn’t show any notes, only the lengthy verses exhorting singers to be faithful and steadfast in times of suffering, even if suffering should lead to death. Worshipers learned the tunes traditionally used with various sets of words. In more recent years, there have been some attempts to provide notation to the traditional tunes that have been handed down through the generations for centuries.

In addition to the words being long—as many as seventeen stanzas was not unusual—the tunes are laboriously slow compared to the pace of the Christian hymns or worship songs we know today. Some of them had as many as nine notes for a single syllable! (If you’re interested in more about the history of Amish hymns, here’s an interesting link.)

I’m a hymn person, no doubt about it. Perhaps that the reason I find myself drawn to including Ausbund hymns in my historical novels.

I won’t try to give you seventeen stanzas! But here’s a flavoring of the kind of suffering and martyrdom hymns written nearly five hundred years ago. This one is by Leonhard Schiemer.

“We are scattered like sheep without a shepherd. We have left our houses and lands and have become like owls of the night, like game birds. We sneak about in the forest. Men track us down with dogs, then lead us like lambs back to town. There they put us on display and say we are the cause of an uproar. We are counted like sheep for slaughter. They call us heretics and deceivers …

“Oh Lord, no tribulation is so great that it can draw us away from you. … Glory, triumph and honour are yours from now into eternity. Your righteousness is always blessed by the people who gather in your name. You will come again to judge the earth!”

How about you? What are some of your favorite hymns or worship songs? And how fast do you like to sing them?

Olivia Newport lives in Colorado where daylilies grow as tall as she is. Her Amish novels include the Valley of Choice series and four titles under the banner of Amish Turns of Times, including her latest release, Hope in the Land.